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Just What the Doctor Ordered

Just What the Doctor Ordered

The Insider’s Guide to Getting into Medical School in Canada
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

“I got in!”

These are three of my favourite words, and I am fortunate to hear them quite regularly from the medical-school applicants I work with directly. I wish I could hear them even more than I already do. This is part of what has led me to write this resource: the idea that more students might benefit from the information, perspectives, and strategies that other applicants to medical school have found useful.

I hope this resource gives support and encouragement to your dreams of becoming a physician, and concrete ideas and strategies for success in a challenging process. I hope it will, in some small way, help you be the next one to say: I got in!

WHY THIS RESOURCE?

If you’re reading this resource, you are likely already aware of how challenging the process of admission to a Canadian medical school can be. If you are like many applicants, you may have already tried applying on your own, without success.

You are not alone. Most medical-school applicants I see have extremely high grade point averages, not to mention extracurricular and community activities galore. They tend to apply to many medical schools, yet receive only one or two interviews—if any. Many of the accomplished students who have sought my help are on their second or third application attempt.

How can this be?

I believe part of the answer lies in numbers. There are ninety-six universities in Canada with a total student population of about 1.8 million. Not every student hopes to become a physician, of course, but take a moment to think about how many students you know in high school or university who are thinking about medical school. When I worked at orientation fairs for incoming students to first-year university, the question I got most from students and parents was: Can you tell me what courses we need to get into medical school?

So, there are potentially lots of interested students. We have limited numbers of medical schools in Canada and limited numbers of spots available at each school. This means that the posted “minimum requirements” from medical schools don’t necessarily reflect the reality of a successful application in Canada.

When I visited a Caribbean medical school several years ago, I spent a week with several premedical advisors from the United States. As the only Canadian advisor, I was startled to hear some of the statistics that my American counterparts told me represented their students: grade point averages in the low 2s (out of 4), and entrance exam scores far lower than any I had seen in my daily work at a Canadian university.

I thought to myself: If the students I worked with had similar statistics, I could understand why they didn’t receive offers of admission. But their statistics were much better—even among students who were applying to Caribbean medical schools because they felt they couldn’t compete with applicants to Canadian medical schools.

The students I have seen in the last twenty years have, by an overwhelming majority, strong academics and good test scores, and contribute enthusiastically, consistently, and broadly in their larger communities. Yet, less than fourteen percent of applicants to medical school received offers in 2015–2016 in Ontario. This percentage appears to be similar across Canada.

In my experience, most medical-school hopefuls—whether they are in high school or university—are used to setting difficult goals and achieving them. The goal of admission to medical school, or the perceived “failure” to achieve it (if you have applied before), can present the biggest challenge you have ever faced. I have seen this challenge erode the confidence of the most stellar students, but I have also seen those students and many others persevere and succeed.

WHY THIS AUTHOR?

I’d like to tell you a bit about why I think I can help.

Over the last twenty years working as a career advisor at a Canadian university, I have worked with thousands of students, from first-year undergraduates to PhD candidates, in diverse degree programs from fine arts to engineering physics. My work has involved helping undergraduate and graduate students explore career options, consider related degree decisions, strategize about further education, search for jobs, and improve their career-development knowledge and skills.

During this time—in my university job and, since 2007, in my private practice—I have also worked with thousands of students hoping to become physicians. I have an “insider” perspective on the health sector from a wide range of experience. For example, for eight years, I volunteered as a community member on a medical-school admissions committee, where I reviewed applications and interviewed candidates. I was not involved in selecting candidates, and I do not speak for medical schools or their selection criteria (particularly since admissions procedures have evolved since my committee work), but I did screen many candidates and came to recognize qualities that, in my judgement, made some candidates stand out. I have also developed and delivered hundreds of workshops on applying to, and interviewing for, medical school and residency programs, and have spent eighteen years working with final-year medical students and international medical graduates applying to residency programs.

So, I offer you:

  • experience as someone who has read thousands of medical-school applications and coached thousands of students through application strategies and medical-school interviews (in my private practice, I have given personalized coaching to a hundred or so students—all, except one, have succeeded in getting accepted to medical school)
  • knowledge of the processes, terminology, and challenges of medical school and residency programs
  • stories of applicants who have struggled and ultimately succeeded in their goals
  • twenty years of coaching students to medical school and residency placements
  • career-counselling techniques to help you present yourself as an informed and focused applicant, and to develop crucial backup plans

And I offer you the experience of hundreds of thousands of hours working with students just like you.

However, I want you to be skeptical of any secondhand source (and that includes me and a long list of others: medical students, doctors, advisors, guidance counsellors, parents, and helpful books and friends). Only the medical schools themselves, in the year that you plan to apply, have the most current and accurate information or interpretation of a given “rule.” Be wary of people or sources (websites, campus clubs, mentoring groups) that make definitive statements about “rules”: the rules come from processes that continually evolve. Every “expert” (including me) is filtering information through their own lens. We are merely interpreters and not the source. Make sure that you are getting the information that you need and can trust. That means always validate what you hear, read, see, or suspect from the source—in other words, from the people who will take your application money and decide your future in their program.

To be clear: the source is each medical school in the year you plan to apply.

Repeat this to yourself! Chant it whenever you are tempted to take shortcuts and assume that someone else knows what they are talking about.

For example, your question might be, Does my human geography course count as a humanities prerequisite for medical school? The “expert” answer of a secondhand source is always: Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. They might sound very sure of themselves as they answer your question—but what you should hear, especially with a question that asks them to interpret what a medical school wants, is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

You can listen to what the person says, and think of it as possibly true, but always remember it is only one perspective. You need to verify the information directly from the medical school itself. Yes, this means more work for you, but it is really important work to do. Pretend a patient’s life is at stake, because it is: you are the patient in this case.

This resource and other people will help you get information and ideas that can be very useful in your process. You can incorporate some of those views and advice (and mine) into your strategy. But always, always remember that what is true for them, and true for now, might not be true for you or true when you apply.

I wrote this resource less as a “do this, do that” manual and more as a “think about this, think about that” strategy tool. This is my biggest gift to you: a strategy to find your own “insider” perspective, which, in my experience, has produced the most confident and competent applicants in the end.

WHY START IN HIGH SCHOOL?

While my primary client base is university and postgraduate students, I do work with some high school students. I wanted to include them in this book because I believe that starting earlier in the process (without overly stressing our students) can be a helpful way to pace out an application to medical school, review additional career options, and ultimately have a less difficult and more successful application process, if and when the time comes around. This resource has a specific chapter for high school students, but also many additional strategy suggestions throughout.

WHY INCLUDE PARENTS?

In my experience, parents and other supporters often play a large and vital part in encouraging medical-school hopefuls, so that’s why I have included a chapter for them in this resource. If you are a parent, or have a parent or supporter who is aware of your medical- school hopes, take a look at chapter 17. I hope it gives parents strategies to help support students embarking on this process, as well as some information about what students might be facing as they do so.

If you are a student with well-meaning parents or supporters, I suggest leaving that chapter lying casually open somewhere, in a place they might trip over it. They want to help you and this might be a good start.

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